For many years I have believed that we are entering the age of the ‘Super Supplier’ or the ‘One Stop Shop’. I have sat through too many presentations where global software and services firms have presented their integrated service oriented platform aspirations,where the seamlessly integrated firm would promise so much more than the sum of the parts. Yet, we continue to be disappointed by all-encompassing platforms in the market that offer tight integration, but demand significant compromise and frequently leave clients worse off. I would argue that new ‘Future of Work’ technology and tools may start to hammer the final nail in the coffin of the Super Supplier. Finally, the Enterprise has the ability to harness inspired service delivery models and create truly impactful service hybrids without the dependence on one single supplier.
Let’s take a look at some recent examples of where ‘One Stop Shopdom’ have fallen short:
Would you like services with that?
Global hardware providers have acquired outsourcing firms, offshore labour arbitrage firms and even bolted on BI capabilities to their portfolios, cobbling a holistic offer together in an attempt to become the single supplier across the customer base. The strategy appeared sound, but the execution was left wanting. While the ‘one logo’ vision exists neatly in the M&A pitch deck, the reality has faltered in its execution. Without the investment in change management and full integration, the erstwhile operations remain in silos and one can argue that each component functioned better independently rather than under one roof.
Fortune telling, or fortune quelling?
Let’s also consider an organisation that was a pioneer and leader in the relational database market. Over the last 40 years the company has grown (organically and through acquisition) to become one of the largest providers of back, middle and front office technologies. The company underpins most of the Fortune 500 and is without a doubt a phenomenal success story. However, as client organisations have strived to maintain technology compatibility, they have lost their flexibility to shop around for best-of-breed components that would deviate from the core platform. Whilst there are many advantages to the technology Super Supplier, we have allowed technology to dictate how we grow our business and manage our clients. And, we’ve also allowed our tools to dictate our long term flexibility and agility to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.
The future of work
Looking across any organisation, we find complex needs that continue to evolve at pace. These needs will be best served by a combination of best-of-breed interactions that follow logical processes and communicate effectively with one another. Therefore, ‘best-of-breed’ can probably never be a single solution, as one size can’t possibly fit all. Furthermore, as we have seen from our two examples, the Super Supplier can emerge from many fields, but often creates forced compromise, which is never good for the end customer.
Having spent half of my career in Early Stage specialist shops and half in Super Suppliers (but always in technology-related industries), I have truly seen the pros and cons of both types of organisation. The Super Suppliers offer their clients stability, broad solutions and hefty price tags, whereas the smaller firms bring cutting edge concepts, flexibility, and solution creativity.
To be clear, I’m not anti Super-Supplier. It’s just that I’ve yet to meet one that consistently provides ‘best of breed’ solutions across their service portfolio.
Robots (and other inspired service delivery models) to the rescue
The good news is that technology appears to have caught up with the flawed logic that it alone should drive how we manage our business. As we enter the age of the cloud, crowd and robot, we are seeing that several new service delivery options have a significant role to play in how we conduct business. Rather than deploying an ‘all under one roof’ model, enterprise is now endowed with a rich set of choices for how best to source talent, technology and efficiency.
Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware
New capabilities such as automation will make a significant impact to the organisation, but are not stand-alone offerings. Automating a poor process may still achieve stellar cost management in the short term, but as customers start to leave in droves, the short-term cost savings will not seem so attractive. The key is to design processes such that they can work holistically across a hybrid operating model consisting of automation and people (Internal or BPO Provider), to ensure an optimal mix of existing and new components to this Future of Work model. The power of Future of Work capabilities is that the dissemination of best-of-breed capabilities across an organisation need not come from one place. Super Suppliers, by their very nature, are vested in cross-sell and account expansion.
In summary, the Super Supplier of the future is unlikely to ever exist, but the Super Solution will and it will finally allow organisations to build best-in-class, service oriented platforms with the customer at their heart and not built restrictively on compromise. Connected people, process and business strategy underpinned by enabling technology can finally become a reality…we’ve heard it all before, but this time we mean it.